3 Ways to Get Rid of Your Old Cell Phone

an old cell phone

Taken by ProhibitOnions, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last month came a day that I had waited a long time for. My contract on AT&T finally expired and I was free to choose a new provider. I had originally chosen AT&T because they were the only ones with coverage on the farm I worked at back in 2008. I renewed in 2010 from inertia as much as anything else. But this year, I was definitely ready for a change. After weighing the pros and cons, I went with a no-contract plan from Virgin Mobile. My monthly cost is HALF of what my AT&T bill was for the same minutes, text messaging, and data.

Now what do I do with the old phone?

That was the question I was left asking myself. Traditionally, I have kept my previous phone when upgrading. It’s always good to have a spare in case something happens to your phone. My very first cell phone fell into a dog’s water bowl about an hour after I bought it. Did you know that cell phone warranties don’t cover water damage? I had to go out and buy another phone… at full price. Ever since that incident, I haven’t felt quite comfortable without a backup phone.

This time, however, I switched carriers. My old phone is useful to me now no more than a paperweight. It’s time to get rid of it. Actually, I had 2 phones to get rid of, because my spare AT&T phone was equally useless.

Here are three alternatives to keeping it in a drawer or polluting the environment by throwing it in the trash.

Recycle Your Old Cell Phone

If your phone is older, like my 4-year-old flip-phone, then recycling may be your best bet. That thing has no value left and the battery probably won’t hold much of a charge. I once had a Motorola StarTac; by the time I got rid of it, the battery held about 4 hours worth of charge. I kept a separate charger at work to keep it plugged in at almost all times.

There are several options for recycling your old phone.

Local recycling center

If your local recycling center accepts electronics, you could start there. Many electronics recycling centers charge to receive items, but some places are free. It seems odd to me that they would actually charge you, because they just then go and sell it to a company that melts it down to retrieve the gold and copper.

Electronics store

Stores like Best Buy usually have recycling bins in the lobby for small electronics such as cell phones and iPods. Next time you are in the store, simply bring your old phone and drop it in the slot.

New phone provider

Inside the box of each Virgin Mobile phone is a pre-paid envelope that allows you to send them your old phone, free of charge. It doesn’t have to be another Virgin Mobile phone. They will take any carrier’s phone. Check with your carrier to see if they will take old phones when you buy your new one.

Donate Your Old Cell Phone

If it is still in good shape, consider donating your old phone instead of recycling it. A lower-income family could put new life to your old phone despite it lacking all the fancy new features. Plus, many thrift stores are attached to a charity. So not only does your phone benefit someone who can’t afford a newer one, but the sale of it will benefit some other needy family.

Sell Your Old Cell Phone

If your phone is no older than a year or two, then you may be able to recoup some of your cost. There are hundreds of websites and retail outlets dedicated to purchasing used phones and re-selling them.

Online/retail cell phone buy back stores

Sites that buy used cell phones have become big business. Such big business, in fact, that retail outlets are opening to do the same thing.. A search on Google for “sell old cell phone” reveals nearly 58 million results.

The two biggest sites out there are Gazelle and uSell. uSell operates as an aggregator of used cell-phone buyers across the nation and will list several options with varying prices.

They do have a limited selection of what phones they will buy back. If your phone was a budget model, your probably won’t find it listed. You can contact uSell with your model & carrier and they will see if they can find a buyer.

Gazelle also don’t support non-major carriers. You can only sell your phone to them if it is from AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, or is unlocked.

The major downside is the prices they offer. I checked my brand new Android smartphone and my wife’s year old Android smartphone.  Both retailed at ~$150 at the time of purchase, although both were purchased on sale for much less. (In fact, it was more like $150 for both of them). uSell offered $5 for each.

I tried the new retail outlet that opened up next to my wife’s store, a place called “We Buy iPhones.” The would offer $5 for my newer phone and nothing at all for my wife’s phone.


Those places buy the used phones for super-low prices and then sell them for more  reasonable prices. Why not cut out the middle man and list your phone on eBay or Craigslist?

After checking around, a used Wildfire S sells for $30. If I were to sell it to uSell, I would have gotten $5 and they would have made a $25 profit! But listing it for sale directly yourself, you would get to keep most, if not all of that money.

Broken cell phones

What about broken phones? Recently, T-Mobile has been making fun of other carriers making you wait 2 years for a replacement, with one commercial showing blood everywhere like a crime scene, then a guy with bandages on all of his fingers and finally showing a ringing cell phone with a shattered screen. Broken phones make up a fair percentage of the old mobile phone space. But most of the services listed above won’t take them. What to do then? Luckily, Money Bulldog has figured that out in his post, Can You Sell a Broken or Damaged Cell Phone Online?

What do you do with your used cell phones?



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19 thoughts on “3 Ways to Get Rid of Your Old Cell Phone

  1. Wow $5 for a $150 phone! I usually keep my phones since I lose and damage a lot of them, and in Guatemala it is what muggers ask for first, so I carry a spare to give them just in case, and try not to give the good one.
    Pauline recently posted..2013 financial goalsMy Profile

  2. I have a cell phone that I brought from the UK to Canada which I activated once with pay as you go. I realized that pay as you go in Canada is rubbish so I never bothered to top it up. I’ll keep my phone as it’s now my alarm clock but in the future if I decide to toss it I found out our local humane society will take TV’s and Cell phones so that’s where I’ll be dropping mine off. Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..A Beginners Guide to Early RetirementMy Profile

    • That’s a pretty good question. I never studied electro-chemistry, but my understanding is that rare earth’s are used as doping materials and therefore in low quantities. According to Molycorp, one of the leading rare earth mining companies, a fraction of a gram of Neodymium is used in cell phone speakers to make reduce the mass-power ratio. Neodymium has a spot price of around $140/kg, meaning there is maybe a penny of it in your cell phone.

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  7. I also in most cases keep the old cell in order to give it away. I can’t use the term “donate” since until today i always give my old cell to friend and family and not to some organization or some strangers.
    In most cases i have to store it until someone need it.
    There is another interesting way to think about cells: try to keep the old one as long as possible! This way you save money & help the environment!
    Recycling is a way to think but not buying until is absolutely necessary is even better!

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  9. A lot of information really great for my cell phone research. I am a web researcher and collect the lot of important from this post. Thanks for the helpful post.

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